So You Think You Can Dance?

Preening at 10, washed up at 40, relentless rejection at every turn: Welcome to the world of professional dance.


Point me t'ward tomorrow

We did what we had to do.

Won't forget, can't regret

What I did for love.

—“What I Did For Love,” from A Chorus Line


A dancer’s life is famously short, brutal and riddled with potential pitfalls: ripped Achilles tendons, torn hamstrings, stress fractures, cruel choreographers. There is drama and angst aplenty, compounded by the constant, unblinking eye of the mirror, magnifying flaws and reminding the dancer that she or he is, after all, a mere mortal. Rejection is a constant.  

And then there is the reality of time, or rather, the lack of it. As a choreographer puts it in Ballerina, one of two new documentaries detailing the lives of dancers: “You’re finished at 40.” 

Despite such realities, dancers choose dance over just about anything else, because, as they see it, there is no choice. In the words of a young hoofer in the new film Every Little Step: “I feel like if you have something to fall back on, you’ll fall back.”  

In recessionary times, art is often the first line item to be struck from strained balance sheets. It’s deemed to be expendable, a bit of fluff, extra. And yet, great art bubbles up from hard times. Think of the Great Depression and painter/muralist Jacob Lawrence, whose work sprang from the Federal Arts Project, or how Martha Graham’s modern dance took a serious, pensive turn with her seminal 1936 work, Chronicle, which was inspired by the Wall Street crash, the crippling economy and the Spanish Civil War.  

Dance, in all its guises, from ballet to hip-hop, is the antithesis of the blinged-out excesses of 50 Cent and Rick Ross. So it’s interesting that, in the midst of Madoff madness and multi-billion-dollar bailouts, there are two new documentaries that are in essence, paeans to hard work and sweaty sacrifice. Ballerina follows the careers of five dancers in Russia’s famed Kirov Ballet at various stages in their careers, from recent ballet school graduate to prima ballerina. Every Little Step chronicles the revival of the Broadway smash, A Chorus Line.